Claressa shields is a champion. She has proven this for years in the boxing ring, won gold medals at two Olympic Games and, in an unbeaten professional career in the ring, became world champion in three divisions (twice undisputed).
On Thursday night, she showed another side of her championship by surviving two tough rounds on her MMA debut before turning the fight in her direction. She deserved it a TKO win in the third round of a special showcase fight against Brittney Elkin at PFL 4 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Shields isn’t the first professional boxer to win an MMA fight. She’s not even the first in her gym, as she trains as part of the same team in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is the home of Holly Holm, a former boxing champion who won the UFC women’s bantamweight championship. But Holm also had a kickboxing pedigree. When Shields entered JacksonWink MMA seven months ago, she was essentially a blank canvas in her new sport.
Shields, the undisputed junior middleweight world champion and a three-belt middleweight champion – and the # 2 boxer on the ESPN women’s boxing rankings – is 11-0 in this sport and now 1-0 now in theirs new. To achieve that victory, Shields showed the fruits of all the hours of training she spent in the gym – and then defied the coaches who prepared her.
After Shields had taken down and controlled much of the first two laps for the first two rounds – but absorbed no significant damage – Shields landed some strong punches early in the third and then spread out across the canvas to fend off a takedown attempt. But Shields chose to leave the fight there and deal damage from the top position. “The coach kept saying, ‘If you get her down, put her up,'” Shields said. “But I think, ‘I’m not going to let her up.’ Then she turned to me, I pushed my hips back down and kept beating her. And then it was over. “
Let’s not get carried away with this victorious debut. Shields’s opponent, Elkin, is a relatively inexperienced fighter who finished with a record of 3-6 and hadn’t competed in MMA for over two years. And Elkin got his way with Shields for most of the fight, getting to the full riding position in each of the first two rounds. Shields is still a work in progress, but she has shown that she is definitely working on what sets her apart from some former boxing champions who have tried MMA. James ToneyFor example, he spent a full 18 seconds on his feet and didn’t land a single punch on the way to being choked to death by the former UFC champion in 2010 Randy Couturewho was almost 50 years old at the time.
But Shields, while far from ready to compete with high-ranking MMA fighters, showed skills to build on. There is still a lot of construction going on, no doubt about it. But she is only 28 years old. And she has a champion’s heart.
“Look, I’ve never doubted winning a boxing match in my life. MMA is something like, it’s possible that I could lose that first fight,” Shields said. “I don’t want to lose. I’m going to try damn hard not to lose. And I did. I had an attitude that never gave up. … And when I heard my coaches say, ‘Put them up,’ I said to myself: ‘Hell no.'”